Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Volcanic Ash Special

Hello my friends :-)

Don't Panic! (phew, got that Douglas Adams quote in early this year). No tropical storms. Yet. ;-)

But, alas, I had to come out of hibernation a little early. Too many other things are going on. Yawwwnnn. Cuppa tea anyone?

For a start, Iceland decided they would like to have a larger role in global events. They've already played their "Financial melt-down" card and handed it over to Greece. So now we have the "Volcanic eruption/glacial meltdown" card AND, to really show us what's what, they picked a volcano with a name that Prince would be proud of. The-Volcano-In-Iceland, formerly known as Eyjafjallajokull, began rumbling a few months ago, resulting in a minor eruption in March. So minor in fact that most of the planet payed absolutely no attention. Deciding it didn't like being ignored, it had another go on April 14 and by April 15 a large ash plume was heading towards the rest of Europe, causing some minor (!) problems here and there (or so I heard). It was idyllic being stuck in the UK during that time - contrail-free blue(ish) skies, warm weather, birds tweeting, cows mooing, flowers blooming, and the slight coating of some metallic and bitter tasting stuff on my skin didn't do me any long term damage (well, none that anyone could detect anyway ;-)) .

So, just in case you are silly enough to want to fly across the Atlantic any time in the next 2 years (says she, who flew across about 5 days ago), I thought you'd like to know where to look for forecasts and what the volcano is doing.

But first the REALLY important stuff... "How to look good and impress your friends: A phonetic guide to Eyjafjallajokull":
From Iceland's embassy in Washington, via NPR, this is how you say Eyjafjallajokull: "AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul."
( There's a little audio clip on there too, so you can hear someone saying it (warning: you'll be saying it with a proper Icelandic accent if you listen to it too much). With 3 weeks of practice, I can now pronounce it correctly after 1.5 glasses of wine. Of course no-one else knows what I'm saying, they are just impressed I have the approximate number of syllables. ;-)

For volcanic ash forecasting the world is divided into regions with a Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (or Center ;-); VAAC) per region. Each VAAC is responsible for providing the official global forecast for ash from any misbehaving volcano in it's region (see website below). The London VAAC covers Iceland and is based in the UK Met Office: This website has the latest Volcanic Ash advisory information. Click on "London VAA: Issued graphics" text( There's a looong list of numbers (PFXD...) next to a date and time stamp (the time is GMT), click on the top one which is the latest forecast, and you'll see four maps. Each map is a forecast for a different time. The top left map is the first in the series and has the year, the month (05), the date/time (Z stands for Zulu time, which is GMT). The red line shows ash location in the lower levels of the atmosphere (SFC-FL200), the green dotted line (FL200/FL350) is ash location at cruising altitude for many flights. FL stands for Flight Level in this case, not Florida :-), so FL350 is a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft.

For a ROUGH idea of concentration charts (I say rough because these are not an official product in the same sense as the plots above), go back to the VAAC homepage ( and click on "London VAAC NWP Volcanic Ash Concentration Charts: Latest charts" (there's a disclaimer at the top). Scroll down, you'll see the time and date stamp in bold above each chart for different flight levels. Each chart that has a red and possibly black area indicates ash concentration for that time and level. Black areas are bad: these are where ash exceeds the plane engine manufacturer tolerence level.

To read about what the volcano is doing, I go to the Icelandic Met Office: They update this at least daily. An eruption plume of 4-5km or higher (13,000 - 16, 400 ft) indicates that it's still quite active.

So there we have it for this "Special". If you have any questions about this, let me know and as with tropical storms, I'll make up an answer for you or find someone who knows about these things. ;-)

Stay tuned... if I have time I'll be doing another "special" before the season really begins on June 1. And then I'll have a nap. ;-)

Toodle Pip!

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DISCLAIMER: These remarks are just what I think/see regarding volcanic eruptions in Iceland - not the opinion of any organization I represent. If you are making an evacuation decision (o.k.... so this disclaimer I cut and paste from the old one, so if you are in Iceland this bit might apply), please heed your local emergency management announcements. This is not an official forecast. If I "run away, run away" (Monty Python), I'll let you know. Hee hee.

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